Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

Patagonia and the Giants


The long day came to an end, with the three ships still guarding the entrance to the bay. Magellan had not made good his boast that he would overcome the mutlnee before sundown; but it was because he desired to do so without unnecessary shedding of blood. Stratagem was safer to adopt than open attack, he reasoned, and about sunset he sent a sailor to the San Antonio  in a skiff. The man was to appear as a fugitive from Magellan's severity, and claim protection of the mutineers. And the scheme succeeded admirably, for he was received with open arms, as a deserter from the captain-general's ship. No suspicions were aroused, and he was sent forward to join the crew; but what he was commissioned to do by his commander appeared in due time.

Some time after midnight, the watch aboard the flag-ship reported the San Antonio  bearing down rapidly upon them. No sails were set, they said, but she was drifting with the current. All were puzzled, save Magellan, who had already given orders to clear the ship for action, and sent men into the main-tops with darts, lances. and muskets. He knew the cause of the San Antonio's  erratic action in drifting directly to her doom, for the fugitive sailor had merely obeyed his instructions, which were to cut her cables. The mutineers would not come out voluntarily to engage him, so Magellan had forced them out, and herein lay his strategy, which was beyond the understanding of his enemies, and caused them bewilderment.

The San Antonio  was the larger ship of the two—as we know—and she was manned by men made desperate by the assurance that short shrift would be theirs if they were taken. And yet the Trinidad, plus her commander, by far outclassed her sister vessel, for his great moral force alone made her preponderant. She was prepared, also, while the mutineer craft was not, and when her cannon belched forth their contents, and her sturdy crew grappled, then boarded the San Antonio  like an avalanche, all resistance was at an end immediately.

The cry went up all over the ship: "For the king and for Magellan," and was heard by the crew of the Concepcion, who promptly surrendered to the captains of the Santiago  and Victoria. They had laid their vessels alongside, with the helpless craft between them, which if she had resisted, would have been blown out of the water.

All these events took place quickly, and in the darkness, which was dispelled at intervals only by the flash of gun-fire and flicker of torches. The mutiny was crushed out, with the loss to Magellan of but a single man; the mutineers, only, remained to be dealt with, and were hunted down relentlessly. Quesada and Cartagena were put in irons, and at dawn was held a drum-head court-martial. Forty men, including the ringleaders mentioned, were found guilty of treason, and sentenced to death. That number was one-sixth the total of the fleet, and Magellan could ill spare them, were he to continue the voyage; so nearly all were conditionally pardoned. All but Cartagena, Mendoza, Quesada, and a priest named Pedro Sanchez. Mendoza had already paid the dread penalty of his crime, but a further example was to be made of him by indignities offered his remains. His body was taken ashore, where it was drawn and quartered and hung up on poles.

Captain Quesada was declared guilty, not only of treason, but of murder, having given the boatswain Lorriaga a wound which caused his death. He too was taken on shore, where, in full sight of his comrades, he was beheaded by his servant, Luis de Molino, who had been pardoned on condition that he would act as executioner. Quesada's body was quartered and the gory remains hung on a gibbet, which, together with bones supposed to be those of the unfortunate mutineers, was discovered fifty-eight years later, by Sir Francis Drake, when on his voyage around the world.

When Magellan sailed away from Spain, it was with special power from the emperor of "rope and knife" over all his subjects serving in the fleet. Hence his punishments did not exceed the letter of his authority, nor the spirit of it, as understood in that age. He could hang, or cut the throats of any persons resisting his authority; and that he confined himself to putting to death only two of the several score who mutinied against him, is a remarkable exhibition of leniency.

The punishments he had inflicted, however, did not end there, for yet alive and rebellious was the ringleader of the conspiracy, Juan de Cartagena. Whether or not Magellan feared to inflict the extreme penalty upon Cartagena, on account of his having been a special favorite of King Charles, at least he did not do so. Perhaps, though, what he did was worse than hanging this miserable wretch outright, for he sentenced him, in company with the priest, Pedro Sanchez, to be marooned, at the departure of the fleet. He was kept a prisoner on board ship during the stay at San Julian, and then left on that desolate shore, well provided with wine, provisions, and clothing, to whatever fate he might encounter.

Glancing ahead a few months, we may note that the fleet departed from San Julian the last week in August, two weeks before which date the mutineers were put on shore and left in solitude. Two months later the crew of the San Antonio  mutinied in a body, this time successfully, and returned to Spain with the ship. This event took place in the Strait of Magellan, whence they intended, it is believed, to retrace their route northwardly to Port Julian, pick up their former comrades, and sail with them direct to Spain. But, strange to relate, there is no further mention, in any existing annals that have yet been found, of the unfortunate Cartagena and Sanchez. The India House of Seville passed a resolution to fit out a ship for their rescue; but there is no record that it ever sailed, and the probability is that Spanish indifference and shiftlessness allowed these poor wretches to perish.

The marooning of these men was equivalent to a death sentence, with the barest chance of a reprieve—which probably never came. Their terrible experience was duplicated some ten years later by that of three men who were marooned on the coast of Brazil by Sebastian Cabot; but two of these eventually escaped and returned to Spain, where they brought suit against their oppressor, and made him much trouble. Forty of Magellan's mutineers were pardoned by him, after having been kept in chains several months, during which time they relieved each other at the pumps, careened and calked the ships, and almost wore themselves out performing the labors assigned them by their master.

It was in this light, indeed, that they viewed him now: as a master whose slightest wish was to be obeyed. There was no longer any doubt as to his dominance, as to his will-power, and terrible energy in punishing crime, when he chose to exert it. Ordinarily pleasant, and accessible to all, Magellan would have been a favorite with the Spaniards had he been of their own nationality; but they could never forget that he was a Portuguese. They were more incensed than ever, but futilely so, when he appointed, in place of Spaniards, Portuguese captains to command the ships.

After a while there were but four vessels composing the fleet, for the Santiago  was lost when on an exploring tour, in the month of May: Serrao, the Portuguese who commanded her, was then given the Concepcion; Alvaro de Mesquita received the San Antonio  (which he captained when the mutineers deposed him); and the Victoria  was assigned to Duarte Barbosa. Thus, eventually, all the ships came under the command of Magellan's own countrymen, one of whom was his cousin, and the other his brother-in-law. "A family party," the Spaniards sneeringly styled the arrangement; but they dared not say it openly at that time.

It was in the month of May, and the first week, that the Santiago  set out on the cruise that ended in her being wrecked. The winter weather was still too inclement to allow of an extended voyage, so Magellan sent Serrao down the coast with instructions to inspect such harbors and rivers as he might discover. He was an experienced commander, stanch and true, bound to Magellan by no common ties of friendship, and thoroughly reliable.

Little did Magellan anticipate disaster when the Santiago  sailed out of Port Julian and disappeared behind a headland shutting out the open ocean. She made her way southward, and about sixty miles from her port of departure found a large river, which Serrao named the Santa Cruz. Fish and sea-wolves, or seals, were so numerous in the waters there that the Spaniards loaded their boat with them, passing a week thus engaged before they went farther. Not far south of the river they were caught in a gale which drove their vessel aground so forcibly that they could not get her off before the seas had pounded her to pieces.

They escaped to shore with little clothing and no provisions, where they found themselves in a barren, inhospitable country, with a river miles in width, and a pathless wilderness between them and the port they had left a few weeks before. They built a raft, and finally crossed the river, from the left bank of which they sent two of their number to seek Port Julian. These two were eleven days on the way, subsisting meanwhile upon such shell-fish as they found on the shore, and arrived at the port in a terrible condition of exhaustion and emaciation.

A relief party was immediately organized and sent out by Magellan, which found the survivors of the wreck nearly one hundred miles distant from San Julian, and almost dead from starvation. They were brought back by a journey of easy stages, and soon after Magellan despatched another search expedition, this time by land, which was as barren of results as the other. Four sailors, selected from those who had been placed in irons as mutineers, were released on condition that they should penetrate to a distance of at least a hundred miles from the coast, and on the highest mount they should discover erect a cross, as evidence of possession by the King of Spain. They set out joyously, glad of an opportunity to prove their loyalty to the captain-general; but after struggling several days against almost insuperable obstacles, returned with the information that the country was not only lacking in resources, but absolutely untraversable. They succeeded, however, in gaining the summit of a high hill, upon which they planted the cross, as directed, naming it Monte Cristo, or the Mount of Christ.

The sailor-explorers also reported the country as uninhabited, and the experience of Magellan and his people in the harbor of Port Julian would seem to have confirmed that impression, for up to that time they had not seen a single native. But one day, about four months after their arrival there, they were astonished, and not a little startled, by the apparition of a gigantic warrior, with a short, heavy bow in one hand, and a bunch of feathered arrows in the other. He had evidently observed the fleet before his appearance upon the ridge, where he began to dance vigorously, howling or singing, and throwing dust upon his head. Magellan did not know how to take these demonstrations at first, but finally concluded aright, that they were meant as tokens of amity, and sent one of his men to imitate his motions: to dance when he danced, and howl when he howled.

The sailor did as directed, and then ensued a most amusing exhibition, in which the giant and the Spaniard were the sole performers. At first sight of the sailor the giant paused in astonishment and alarm, but seeing him imitate his own actions he began to dance again, with redoubled energy. As the two approached, they capered about each other in a wide circle, gradually approaching, until at last they met and embraced. It had been a sore trial for the poor seaman, for how did he know but that the giant meant to slay and eat him, when they met? He stood his ground manfully, however, for he too was one of the pardoned mutineers and wished to retrieve himself in his captain's estimation; and he was, moreover, encouraged by the cries and laughter of his comrades on the fleet and ashore, who were convulsed with merriment at the ludicrous manoeuvres. This was the first relief they had experienced from the dread monotony of solitude and storm by which they were environed, and they welcomed it with tumultuous hilarity.

Everybody concerned was in a condition of good-humored jollity by the time the triumphant sailor and his prize boarded the flag-ship, and there was great rivalry as to who would show the most attention to the giant Patagonian. He was, in truth, overwhelmed with attentions, and, extremely puzzled by this warm reception, inquired by signs if the strangers had not dropped down from the sky. They hastened to assure him of their celestial origin, but the good-natured giant was still puzzled (as he indicated by signs) at the small size of the men, and the magnitude of their ships. Compared with this barbarian, indeed, the foreigners were like pygmies, for scarce a man aboard ship stood higher than his waist-belt, says the Chevalier Pigafetta.

"His face was very large," continues the chevalier, "and painted red all over, except that around the eyes were yellow circles, and two heart-shaped daubs of the same color on his cheeks. He was dressed in the skins of animals, sewn together. The animal from which these skins were derived has a head and ears as large as those of a mule, a neck and body like those of a camel, legs like a deer's, and tail of a horse, like which it neighs—and that land has many of them."

This animal, of course, was the guanaco, which was then, or soon after, seen by Europeans for the first time. The first rude drawing of the llama, so nearly allied to the guanaco, was shown Balboa about nine years previously, but the beast itself was not seen by white men until ten years later. Soon after the giant had been allowed to go ashore a body of natives appeared, among them some women, leading several guanacos by leathern halters. They had trained them, it seemed, to serve as beasts of burden, as the Peruvians trained the llamas. They were wont to capture them when young, and "when those people wish to catch some of those nimals, they tie one of these young ones bush. Thereupon, the large ones come to play with the little ones, and the natives kill them from their hiding-places, with their arrows."

Pantagonian giants


The first Patagonians encountered by Magellan were evidently nomads, roaming about in search of sustenance. As he has the honor of being the first European to discover them, so he was the first to name them: "Patagones,"  (clumsy-footed), because, in addition to having very large feet (as gigantes, or giants, might be supposed to have), they wrapped them in guanaco-skins, which made the size abnormal. We know now that while above the average stature of man, the Patagonians are not the giants, quite, described by the early explorers, though many of them are more than six feet in height.

To recur to the giant lured by the sailor on board the ship: He was so overcome by the many strange things he saw, and the various gifts he received, that he wandered about in a condition of dazed astonishment. After he had been regaled with the best the fleet afforded, such as preserved fruit and wines, he was presented with some of the toys which had been brought from Spain for traffic with the natives. He was especially delighted with the cascabels (which were also called hawk-bells, and fashioned something like the old-fashioned sleigh-bell), and as Magellan had many hundreds of them they were liberally bestowed upon the giant.

As he went about jingling his cascabels, and in open-mouthed wonder admiring the ship and its contents, he was suddenly confronted with a large steel mirror. Seeing a duplicate of his fierce and savage-looking self for the first time in his life—save as reflected in the surface of some placid lake, perchance—he leaped backward with a cry of affright, and so suddenly as to topple over four or five of the curious sailors who had been following him around in crowds, close upon his heels. It is hard to say who were most affronted: the terrified giant, or the overturned seamen, who rose from the deck rubbing their bruised limbs and bodies, and muttering words which, if their visitor could have understood them, might not have been consicd by him complimentary.

"Juan Gigante"  (John the Giant) as he was called by his new friends, was greatly pleased with the small mirror which was given him as a solace for his fright in looking into the large one, and entertained the crew by taking a barbed arrow from the bunch and slipping it down his throat, then withdrawing it again, without any evil consequences to himself. This feat he evidently considered quite wonderful, as it certainly was; and it made such an impression upon the spectators that when, finally, he was sent ashore with four armed men as an escort, it was with rounds of lusty "bravos" ringing in his ears.